Why ITT Education Shares Popped

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Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

What: Shares of ITT Educational Services (NYSE: ITT  ) were flying higher today, gaining as much 34% after smashing analyst estimates in its quarterly report.

So what: New student enrollment was still down 3.6% at ITT, but the low bar made it easy for the for-profit educator to beat expectations. EPS of $1.33 topped estimates of $1.21, and revenue shrunk 15.8%, to $287.7 million, but also beat the analyst consensus at $277.7 million. The drop in new student enrollment was actually good news, as it was much smaller than the 14.2% total decline in student enrollment. The discrepancy could be viewed as evidence that ITT and its education peers are hitting a bottom with new student enrollment declines.

Now what: From a financial perspective, ITT looks like one of the best bets in this sector, with a 2013 P/E of less than six. Double-digit drops in revenue may be scary, and the stock is still down 70% from its 52-week high, indicating that it's still a long way away from the stable company it was once believed to be. Still, today's beat indicates that analysts may be exaggerating ITT's decline. If it can hold the line on new students, shares should begin to recover.

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